Steve Stricker, once a strong supporter of banning the stroke used for long putters, shed some insight into the PGA Tour's position Tuesday when he said he would not be surprised to see the tour ignore the USGA if the ban is adopted.
The PGA Tour is drafting a response to the USGA's proposal to outlaw any stroke that is anchored to the body, which is aimed at belly putters and broom-handle putters. Three of the last five major champions used a belly putter.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem had a conference call with his 16-member Player Advisory Council on Monday afternoon, followed by a call with the policy board.
Stricker, regarded among the best putters in golf, said he could see the tour adopt a local rule that would allow long putters.
"I don't know if that's going to happen; don't even know if the USGA is going to go ahead with the rule change," said Stricker, one of the players on the policy board. "But I can see the tour adopting the rule saying that it's OK for players to use a long putter. And we have probably a couple other rules out here on our hard card that are different from USGA rules, too. And that wouldn't be any different, I guess."
A hard card is what sometimes is referred to as "conditions of competition." For example, the tour often will allow players to lift, clean and replace the golf ball in the fairway during wet conditions. The USGA does not allow for such preferred lies.
Tiger Woods also went from a strong position in favor of the ban to a more balanced view that keeps him out of the debate.
"I understand if we go either way," Woods said. "We put in local rules every week, and this may or not be a local rule. But we'll see what happens."
The USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced the proposed rule Nov. 28, and then allowed for a 90-day comment period because of the sensitive nature of long putters. The USGA sets the rules for the United States and Mexico, while the R&A is in charge of golf rules for the rest of the world.
The comment period is over after the Match Play Championship. The proposed rule, if adopted, would not be effective until 2016.
For all the chatter, the debate effectively won't get started until the USGA and R&A announce whether they will adopt the new rule. Then it would be up to the PGA Tour to decide which direction it wants to go. USGA executive director Mike Davis has said he would not comment until the review period is over. One person in touch with Davis said there was no indication the USGA would back down. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the conversations.
For the tour to move away from the USGA on such a matter could lead to chaos at a time when USGA President Glen Nager is among those preaching unification. It could mean that a player would use a belly putter on the PGA Tour, but he would not be able to compete in at least two majors (U.S. Open and British Open) with the same putter.
Also unknown is the response from the European Tour. Ernie Els, who won the British Open last summer using a belly putter, is a member of both tours. If the PGA Tour does not go along with the proposed rule, there could be a case where Els can use a belly putter at the Memorial, but not at the Dubai Desert Classic.
"That is a concern," Stricker said.
Joe Ogilvie, a member of the Player Advisory Council, described Monday's call with Finchem as "very brief" and a chance for players to give Finchem their thoughts.
"It wasn't unanimous, but I would say a vast majority were not in favor of the ban," Ogilvie said.
Jim Furyk, another player on the board, told Golfweek magazine that he disagrees with the rule, though going away from the USGA would open "a whole new can of worms in the world of golf."
"Every sport that I can think of has different sets of rules for different abilities and different styles, and I realize that's not what the USGA wants to do," Furyk said. "I just really don't understand why."
Stricker said information over the last few months has changed his view. He still doesn't like long putters, but doesn't like the idea of a rule — not after the long putters have been allowed for the last 40 years.
"I think the timing of it is poor," he said. "We're at a point in time in the game of golf that we're trying to keep players, lure players into playing the game, and a majority of the players feel that it only puts a negative spin on that, maybe detracts the local guy, the club member, the public player, whoever, from playing at times.
"It's a tough subject," he said. "It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out. ... I guess we're just going to have to sit back and see what the USGA is going to do."